How to make your team miserable

Fascinated by the phenomenon of teams and companies of truly smart and talented people unable to work together, turning almost every day of their work into just another step to inevitable failure, I’ve been collecting tips and recipes for creating miserable teams.

All characters and tips in this post – even those based on real people and events – are entirely fictional, except ones I proudly committed myself on many occasions.

I split those tips into two categories: for leaders of all types and for regular team members.


Tips For Leaders

  • Don’t admit you don’t know something or you risk appearing weak. You can always change the topic and return to it later when you are prepared or don’t return at all if you don’t feel comfortable.

  • Work-life balance is just a leftist buzzword and an excuse to work less. True success is achieved by putting hard, long hours. Don’t hesitate to message, email or call your subordinates late after work, on weekends and holidays and make mental notes on how fast they respond. Casually toss in a random email or even commit a piece of code yourself at midnight to show that you never rest and make them feel guilty.

  • Don’t give any information about company plans and directions to your team. The less they know, the better they sleep.

  • Being a good process framework, Scrum has one fatal disadvantage: stand-ups only happen ever 24h, which feels like an eternity. You should ask your team for status updates at least every few hours during the day, better in person. This way you can make sure they aren’t slacking and are always stressed enough to deliver until your next check.

  • Talking about processes - they are only tools, you should always know better about arising priorities and not be afraid to interrupt any process to re-prioritize. If you do it often enough, your team will be ready for anything and will not mind working without specific goals. That’s real agility!

  • To better plan projects, split them into smallest possible tasks and estimate them with your team in hours. Your manager will appreciate how precise you are.

  • Don’t feel bad about canceling and re-scheduling meetings with your team the last minute. Unlike them - you are a busy bee and your calendar never rests.

  • Another way to achieve more and train your team like true Navy Seals is to exercise their brains with context switching. Eventually, assigning each team member several tasks at once, you will get twice or even thrice as much work done!

  • At some point, you get a feeling that you know your subordinates better than they do themselves. That’s when you should start making decisions for them to avoid any inefficiency. One proven way is to assign tasks individually instead of letting the autonomy (another word to cover up anarchy) to creep in. Make them feel an absolute, parent-like responsibility to deliver tasks you assigned and estimated for them.

  • Make sure your subordinates know that mistakes are not acceptable. Every mistake must be attributed, guilty must be found and punished. On the bright side, such mistakes often make good jokes on company parties: “- Do you remember when Jake deployed a bug into production? Dude looked pale as paper when he found that database is down LOL”.

  • To be honest, you cannot really trust your subordinates, co-workers or people in general, but you probably know that by now.

  • When you have to, only promote your friends or people who never challenge your authority and don’t ask stupid questions.

  • Nobody is perfect: detect and keep up your sleeve few reasons to reject raise or promotion for each of your subordinates. It’s a sure way to keep them feel incompetent and try to work harder.

  • When your own boss is angry with the slow progress of your team, make sure to project that anger down your subordinates so that you are all in the same boat and do your best to achieve deadlines.

  • Never tell your management the real state of affairs if it’s bad. Say that it’s all right and push your team work harder meanwhile.

  • Projects fail because of how inexperienced your team is. Projects succeed because how hard and well you manage them.

  • Being a leader means being in control of everything. Don’t let any external communication slip off your radar - your team shouldn’t talk, consult or even look in the direction of other teams, or God forbid, leaders. You are the one and only point of contact for your team.

  • You know better which tools, technologies, architectures and code designs your team should use to solve problems. Even if you have no technical background.

Tips For Team Members

  • When you talk, talk loud so that everyone can hear you, even those with the headphones on.

  • Work is boring. Entertain your colleagues with a random joke from 9gag or a news piece when you feel like it.

  • Time is gold. When you are stuck with something - don’t waste even five minutes googling it or trying to understand on your own but ask a teammate immediately. Better in person.

  • When you are stuck on a task and don’t feel comfortable admitting it, an innocent lie during a standup can win you a few hours or even days.

  • One of the ways to keep your job and be respected for it - is to hold some sacred knowledge. Keep everything you learn about your work and profession to yourself to avoid any competition.

  • Introduce some additional complexity into the project you work on because it’s no cool if it’s too simple and easy to understand.

  • Another way stay valuable as a professional on the market is to know as many latest, cutting-edge technologies as possible. Introduce new languages and frameworks at least on every new project. If there are no new projects - convince everyone to rewrite existing ones.

  • You don’t want to be blamed for mistakes you didn’t do. Make it clear to everybody who is to blame.

  • In contrast, always make sure everyone knows what you did and get credit and recognition for it.

  • Make sure to work only on your tasks, don’t help others with theirs, it’s not your responsibility.

  • Make sure to work only on interesting tasks if you can choose, leave the boring ones and chores to others!

  • Don’t stay around teammates smarter or more experienced than you are or you risk appearing worse in the eyes of the rest of the team.

  • Want to be better at your job than your colleagues and be promoted? Work longer! If you work just for two hours longer every day, at the end of the month you will be 40 hours ahead!

  • Don’t waste time on communication. Use as little words as possible when discussing your work and let your teammates guess the rest.

  • In a discussion or an argument, do not hesitate to find and share a blog post or an article by a popular person proving your point.

  • Your work is an extension of yourself. It’s your baby, part of your soul. Be protective and don’t let anyone criticize your work!

  • Don’t shy away from complaining about imperfect things and things you don’t like. If you complain often enough, someone will come up with a solution and fix them.

  • If your teammate does not perform well - it’s because he is lazy or stupid. If you don’t perfrom well - it’s because of the circumstances you are in.

  • Be optimistic in your estimates.

  • Occasionally, ask a random teammate some tricky question he doesn’t have an answer to in front of the team, to boost their respect of your experience and knowledge.